Puerto Ricans: The Second Largest Hispanic Group in the United States

April 27, 2016

Cause: Puerto Rico’s current state

Puerto Rico has recently been donned the nickname “America’s Greece” as a result of their growing economic recession. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, PREPA, is at the center of the crisis with $USD 9 billion in debt. PREPA’s economic crisis is publicizing the timeless question of Puerto Rico being treated as neither a state nor its own country. In 1984, The United States Congress passed legislation preventing Puerto Rican agencies, municipalities, and government-owned utilities from declaring bankruptcy. The question at stake for the plant and country is whether the commonwealth should be allowed to resort to U.S. bankruptcy courts for protection to restructure the debts. The crisis of PREPA has impacted the territories competitiveness for business investment because of the needlessly high electricity rates.1 The recession is hitting the population with an unemployment rate of about 12 percent.2

Where are Puerto Ricans Migrating?

The recent economic recession in Puerto Rico has caused the largest movement from the island to the mainland United States since the great migration of the 1950s.3 More Puerto Ricans currently live on the mainland than on the island of Puerto Rico. Indication that the exodus is growing can also be seen in the increased number of passengers on flights to the mainland from about 43,000 to 74,000 in 2014.2 According to Pew Charitable Trusts, the migration pattern of Puerto Ricans to the mainland has shifted. In 2013, Florida was the number one destination attracting 21,245 Puerto Ricans. Pennsylvania followed with less than half of the increase, attracting 8,640. The 79% increase since 2005 in Puerto Rican migration to Florida is possible due to the -38% change since 2005 in New York. New York followed Pennsylvania as the third destination on the mainland with 4,536 migrants.2

Florida and Pennsylvania have sprung up as the main destinations for Puerto Rican migrants to the mainland. Central Florida, around Orlando, has seen an especially large increase in Puerto Rican migrants due to the entry-level jobs associated with tourism from Disney World.3 Some even refer to Orlando as a faraway suburb of Puerto Rico.4 The strong Puerto Rican community in central Florida also makes it a welcoming place for professionals and entrepreneurs to relocate.3 The main impetus for Puerto Ricans to flee the island is the search for jobs, which has brought many to smaller cities where jobs are plentiful and cost of living is low.Rapidly becoming one of the largest communities, today one-quarter of Allentown, Pennsylvania is Puerto Rican. Migration to Allentown became noticeable in the 1950s with the booming Lehigh Valley attracting farmers and factory workers from Puerto Rico. Since then Amazon and Nestle have begun hiring many recent migrants. In addition to jobs, many migrants cited family connections as a reason to move to Allentown, which will continue to keep the Puerto Rican community growing and thriving.2

Effects: Ability to Swing Elections

Some estimates state that there are 1,000 new Puerto Ricans arriving in Florida every month making the Puerto Rican population about as large as the Cuban- American population.5 Unlike other Hispanic immigrants, Puerto Ricans arrive in the continental Unites States qualified to vote. In the past, despite the citizenship and voting rights conferred on Puerto Ricans, they voted less than other Hispanic groups. Traditionally, the lower participation in political activities among Latinos was due to lower socioeconomic resources and engagement.

As candidates and political parties prepare for the 2016 election, Puerto Ricans are a highly coveted group, being categorized as less party conscious. In the more recent elections Puerto Ricans have increased their participation in voting and helped to swing Florida blue to elect President Obama, and red to elect Charlie Crist as governor.4 Many Puerto Ricans vote on a candidate’s appeal instead of a party’s appeal, which makes the group highly influential for candidates. Puerto Ricans have been able to begin pushing for issues that affect Puerto Rico such as equity in Medicare and Medicaid assistance as well as the ability to file for bankruptcy and create debt relief. The group is gaining a political base locally where six lawmakers in local commissions and the State Legislature are of Puerto Rican descent.4 The trend in migration of Puerto Ricans is not showing any signs of slowing, which indicates that Puerto Ricans will hold a lot of power well into the 2016 election.




1)   Mufson, Steven. "Is It Lights out for Puerto Rico?" The Washington Post, 25 July 2015. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

2)   Henderson, Tim. "Puerto Rican Newcomers Seek Work, Family on the Mainland." The Pew Charitable Trusts, 1 Sept. 2015. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

3)   Jordan, Mary. "Exodus from Puerto Rico Could Upend Florida Vote in 2016 Presidential Race." The Washington Post, 26 July 2015. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

4)   Alvarez, Lizette. "Puerto Ricans Seeking New Lives Put Stamp on Central Florida." The New York Times, 24 Aug. 2015. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

5)   Allen, Greg. "Puerto Ricans Vow To Have A Bigger Voice In 2016 Election." NPR, 18 Oct. 2015. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

6)   Vargas- Rams, Carlos. "Puerto Rican Civic and Political Participation At the Turn of the 21st Century." (2010): n. pag. Center for Puerto Rican Studies. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.


About Author(s)

elf53's picture
Emma Freedman
Emma Freedman is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh working as an intern for Panoramas. She is majoring in Urban Studies along with a certificate in Latin American Studies and Global Studies. She studied abroad twice in Buenos Aires, Argentina which heavily shaped her interest in the region. She plans to continue working for the nonprofit, Moche Inc. in Trujillo, Peru after graduation.